The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the launch of its Energy Material Network (EMN) – a $40 million initiative that will focus on tackling one of the major barriers to widespread commercialization of clean energy technologies: the design, testing, and production of advanced materials. The DOE believes this will “give American entrepreneurs and manufacturers a leg up in the global race for clean energy.”

“Manufacturing better materials for clean energy products has the potential to revolutionize whole industries, but only a small fraction of the materials investigated in the laboratory currently make it to widespread market deployment,” said DOE Under Secretary Franklin (Lynn) Orr. “By bringing together American manufacturing expertise, academic leadership in discovering new materials, and the exceptional capabilities of DOE’s National Labs, the Energy Materials Network can spark a revolution in commercializing clean energy materials.”

As part of the EMN, the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is providing the funding to establish four consortia and solicit proposals for collaborative R&D projects with industry and academia. One of those four is the Lightweight Materials Consortium (LightMat). Led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the consortium will strive to achieve increased vehicle fuel efficiency by designing specialized alloys and carbon fiber reinforced polymer composites that can be manufactured on a large scale.

The LightMat network will consist of three teams of technical capabilities experts, technology transfer/agreements experts, and data experts from participating national laboratories – including Oak Ridge National Lab.

“Through the Energy Materials Network, the National Labs and their partners will develop and apply cutting-edge new materials research tools that will allow us to dramatically accelerate clean energy materials discovery,” said DOE David Danielson, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “This could be a true game-changer for accelerating cost reduction through innovation for a wide array of clean energy technologies all across the board.”

The EMN may not be the only recent DOE initiative that could affect the composites industry. The DOE has also announced the launch of SuperTruck II, an $80 million funding opportunity for research, development and demonstration of long-haul tractor-trailer truck technology. Composites are the best way to improve the aerodynamic efficiency of large trucks. To learn more about green composite panel applications in trucks, make sure to check out “Next Stop for Green Composites: Truck Panels” from the January/February 2016 edition of Composites Manufacturing.